Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 2002
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 6: New Truths of the Kingdom Aristocracy
Chapter 4 – The Historical Maturing of the Church
Lesson 197 – Church History – The Middle Ages and the Reformation
11 Apr 2002
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
In this section of material we’re going over church history and the reason we’re going over church history like this is because in the New Testament it talks about the Holy Spirit will bring all things to your remembrance. What I’m trying to do is show that the Holy Spirit has been very active over the centuries of the church and is building still the body of Christ. He began in the early centuries by laying the foundation as to authority and the authority is revelation. It is not reason, it is revelation.
It is not reason because reason by itself is like … if you ever played with a hand calculator, reason is a calculator and it’s no better than what you put into the thing. I always have to laugh, having been trained in theoretical mathematics, when I hear (usually liberal arts students) laud the benefits and glories of reason when all reason is is a computer, a calculating machine. You have to plug in things to make reason work. What do you suppose you’re plugging into it? You’re plugging in ideas that make the reason work, and the ideas carry with them beliefs and presupposition and assumptions. So reason isn’t itself a tool, particularly it isn’t a neutral tool. Reason can be used any way you want. It’s a tool of sorting, it’s a tool of calculating, but it’s not going to insulate you from assumptions and presuppositions. You have to have an authority over and above reason and that authority is revelation; and that revelation takes the form of canonical Scripture so revelation actually is the Canon. That particular awareness that happened in church history is a whole doctrine; it’s the doctrine of revelation, the doctrine of the Bible.
I’m going to just review for a few minutes here on the front end about the sequence that we’ve watched develop down through church history. Then we’re going to go to the Framework that we’ve been working on and I want to go back to where we learned these doctrines so that in your mind’s eye you will be able to go back to the Scriptures that were involved, the history that was involved as well as seeing where this all logically fits together. There’s a logical development of doctrine through church history. After the issue of authority and the rise of the Canon, not necessarily did the church immediately catch the implication of having a completed Canon. For a long time the church insisted on apostolic succession. If you’ve come out of a liturgical church you’ve probably heard that term, “apostolic succession.” The early church used apostolic succession; they gravitated to those men who were taught by those men who were taught by those men who were taught by the apostles. But if you think about it, it wasn’t apostolic succession in the sense that somebody knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody, it’s rather they believed in apostolic succession for the same reason you and I would. If we had three people here and one of them had a chance to talk to Paul and the other two didn’t, who would we talk to? We’d talk to the guy that had talked to Paul. But it’s not because that guy is smarter, better or anything else, it’s just that we think that he can tell us the content of what Paul spoke of.
So apostolic succession in early church history did happen and it was taught, but it was taught out of the frame of reference that that was the way to get to apostolic teaching. It was always in the background, the apostolic teaching that’s the issue. Of course, that became institutionalized, apostolic succession, and that became part of a structure, particularly to the Roman Catholic Church, and the Episcopalian and Anglican Churches believe in apostolic succession also. They had a little problem with Henry VIII but that’s the way it goes. Because somebody has been ordained by somebody who was ordained by somebody who was ordained by somebody who was ordained back, back, back, back, back all the way to the apostles, doesn’t make that person orthodox. What makes a person orthodox is that he’s following the apostolic teaching; not that somebody laid empty hands on an empty head.
Authority and Canon are very important; that’s the basis of everything else that goes on in church history. I keep riding this hobby horse for a reason. You’re going to meet people in your Christian experience that when they hear you go to a Bible church, they make out like you’re a freak, who goes to Bible churches, and it puts you on the defensive the first few times you get hit with this. You know, gee, do I have spiritual BO, what’s the problem here because I go to a Bible church. The problem is these people don’t realize their own church history. What is the first and greatest advance that was made in church history? Establishing the Bible, that’s the Canon of Scripture. Of course we go to a Bible church; where else do you get apostolic teaching but by going back to the Bible. So we don’t have to be apologetic for it, this is not something that in 1932 some Elmer Gantry fundamentalist thought about. This is part and parcel of the structure of church history.
The founders of all the denominations believed in Biblical authority. Luther did, the founder of the Lutheran Church. John Wesley did, I mean, some of the liberal Methodists would gag if they ever had John Wesley preach. The people in the Presbyterian Church, I mean, Calvin would faint if he walked into some of the liberal Presbyterian Churches. The point is that there’s a lot more that binds orthodox Christians together in these basic things than separates. So that was the big key, the authority and the Canon.
Then came the next thing, which was the Trinity and who the Lord Jesus Christ was. The church had to think about that one; had to deal with that one. So again, the next time somebody comes to your front door and hands you literature of the Watchtower Society or something, and tells you that the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is God, and makes the silly assertion that the Trinity was somehow imported from the Greeks into church history, they just don’t know what they’re talking about. People don’t sit, because they’ve got nothing else to do, in a back room some place and think up something like the Trinity. It’s a difficult thing, and it was arrived at only because they tried this path and that didn’t work. They tried another description and that didn’t work. They tried this one, this one, this one, this one and finally they settled on the Trinity. Lots of people gave a lot of thought to this because they had a lot of Scripture.
So what happens is some of these amateur cultists come and they quote verses out of the New Testament that speak of Jesus’ humanity and they say, see, the Bible teaches Jesus’ humanity. But they conveniently avoid the verses that speak of His deity. It’s the same old stuff; all they’re doing actually is repeating the heresies of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries all over again. I have been strongly tempted around some of those people to say you know, you ought to take a time machine and go back, you belong in the 3rd or 4th century when this was being debated; it’s all over now, nobody that’s orthodox doubts the Trinity and the Lord Jesus Christ. What are you raising this issue for, this was dealt with centuries ago; go back and read your church history.
That’s the foundational period and it’s important that these two areas of truth were dealt with. In your Christian life and my Christian life if the same Holy Spirit teaches us that has historically taught the church, you might look to see if His lesson plan with you personally isn’t the same as His lesson plan for the church corporately. Mainly that if you think about it, the truths that the Holy Spirit will tend to emphasize in the proper sequence, He varies it, each one of our lives is different than the other person, we’re all varieties of one species spiritually speaking so the Holy Spirit deals with each of us as individuals. But I’m talking about the general sweep of things, that the Holy Spirit will root you into the authority of Scripture. And if you’re weak here, if whoever led you to the Lord didn’t make this issue clear, you’re on wobbly legs with all the rest of this because if you don’t have this down and you have doubts you’re going to be wobbly in these areas. You’re not going to be firm on who God is, what He’s done for you if you’re still floating around trying to figure out whether the Bible is the Word of God or not. So there is a natural tendency to follow this thing.
Last time we moved on from the foundational era to the Middle Ages and the Holy Spirit was working then. So after the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ was cleaned up, clarified, and the Trinity, then the next debate was the work of the cross. That was debated down through the Middle Ages. Let me show you something to understand about the logic and the structure of divine revelation.
We followed this Framework over the years; the first part of the Scriptures, Genesis 1–11, based on four key events. Yes, there are other events; I’m just picking the four key events, creation, the fall, the flood and the Noahic Covenant. If you learn the content, the truth content of Scripture, and link it in your mind’s eye with historic events, such that when you associate a doctrine, for example with creation, in your imagination you can almost pretend you were there watching creation happen. Read Genesis until it stimulates your imagination so you can do that. When you do that, you’re going to think about who God is, what man is and, [what] nature is. You’ll think of those, man and nature, as created entities. You will learn that God is the Creator and then there’s the creature, that which is created. Just mentally remembering God spoke and it came to pass. He said “Let there be light” and there was light. He said let there be animals, let there be plants, let there be man and they were. That’s His command; He spoke and it stood fast. If you will just do that simple exercise you will automatically be rooted in the Creator/creature distinction. That’s the doctrine of God, and it’s contingent and linked to the event of creation, because it’s the event of creation that reveals the Creator/creature distinction. If you’re blurry on that the rest of the stuff is going to get greasy and slippery. That’s why you have to go back to these basics.
So we go back to these basic events and we are going to pick up these doctrines so that when we come to church history and we see how the Holy Spirit is teaching here, here, and here we’ll be aware of what He’s teaching. So we learned about the doctrine of God, man and nature from the event of creation in Genesis 1–3, powerful chapters, very simple, a child can learn this but as you feed on it more and more the truth gets deeper and deeper.
The second issue was the fall, a profound thing that leads to a proper understanding of evil and suffering. There’s a lot of suffering going on in the world right now and it’s on television every night. There are a lot of people out there that say boy, if there’s a God He ought to apologize for making this mess. But if you read Genesis 3, and you should once or twice a month to get perspective, you know automatically that something’s wrong with that statement. What was the state of creation after God finished His work on the seventh day? Was it a mess? No, it wasn’t a mess. Who screwed it up? Man screwed it up. It wasn’t the little African bugs or anything that screwed it up, it wasn’t the animals, it wasn’t the lions, we can’t blame something else; we can blame mamma and daddy, Adam and Eve, because they bear, and we corporately with them…. We corporately joined in and they were our representative and we participated in it and we reap the results. God said the day that you sin you’re going to die, and the word “die” means a lot of things; it encompasses physical death, it encompasses spiritual death, it encompasses suffering, it encompasses sorrow, it encompasses all these other things.
The other diagram that we’ve gone over and over, this evil problem is one that constantly comes up and it’s like the Christians are the ones that are screwed up. It’s the other way around; if you’re not a Christian you’re screwed up. Let’s look at the diagram again and think about it. In the worldview of the Christian, God is good forever, from eternity to eternity, He has never changed. The introduction of evil hasn’t changed His character; God is as good now as He was before creation. We come down, however, because in the Christian worldview there’s a Creator and a creation, two levels of reality, not one. That’s elementary, that is Genesis 1:1 and once we see that there’s a Creator/creature distinction and that we believe in two levels of being, not one, now we look at creation and say oh, look at this, there’s creation and there’s the fall and there’s an interruption between the two. There’s a gap between creation and the fall and in that gap the creation was very good. So it’s not true that this death scene, this suffering scene that we are emerged in now, it’s not true that that’s inherent to creation. That is an add-on that came afterward. That is a corruption of the original. That’s why the story of Genesis 1:2 versus Genesis 3 …, there’s a reason for that gap, because it’s vital to prove that you can have physical creation without death, you can have physical creation without corruption.
Then we have a period from the fall to the judgment when both good and evil coexist in an uneasy mix, which is where we live today. That goes on and on until the judgment comes, and when judgment comes, God eternally separates the good and evil once again. Here the good will triumph and evil will be permanently done away with. People don’t like to hear that, they blame God for that. It’s most amazing when we think of it. Here we are, we blame God for the mess up, then when we hear about the fact He’s going to separate eternally the good from the evil, heaven from hell, when He does this now we blame Him because He’s done something else wrong. It couldn’t possibly be us, it’s always God’s fault in all this stuff. So here’s the good and the evil between the fall and the judgment. Notice, however, in the Christian worldview that this period of good and evil is bounded on the left side of the diagram by the fall; on the right side of the diagram by judgment, and therefore we can say that no matter how powerful evil is, it is bracketed. It is limited; it is not free to go wherever it wants to go. It’s bounded in time and bounded in space.
Let’s forget the Bible for a moment and let’s go out and think like an unbeliever; it comes natural. Let’s think like a pagan. A pagan, unbelieving, says well, I observe that there’s good and evil today, my granddaddy suffered good and evil yesterday, and my children are going to suffer good and evil tomorrow. Conclusion: there always has been and always will be good and evil mixture. The classic symbol of this, because the Oriental people actually have thought through this a lot better than the western people and are much more consistently historically pagan, that’s why for example the yin yang symbol today is today on the flag of South Korean. That is the yin yang and that is the black and the white showing that they coexist and they are equal and opposite. So what this is is a hopeless mess because it says that good and evil are forever, there’s no separation of good from evil in this scheme of things, and there is no origin point of good or evil such that existence itself is inherently evil. That’s the unbeliever’s position. People don’t like that either. But believe me, the people who have thought it through, particularly in Oriental religion, know this is true. This is why they want to escape into a nirvana; they would rather commit suicide of the soul and destroy their personal existence because they want to get off this thing, reincarnation is no good, that just brings you back next time as a bug or something and you have to go through the cycle all over again. Reincarnation is not good news; reincarnation is doom. All of that to say that we’ve looked and we say that the Bible has not only the explanation but it has the only explanation.
Then we came to the flood and that pertains to what we’re going to talk about in the Middle Ages. The Middles Ages is thinking in terms of what did Jesus Christ do on the cross, and it’s the Framework in which you are thinking when you are asking the question, what did Jesus do on the cross that gives you the right answer or it gives you the wrong answer. It gives you the answer of Anselm or it gives you the answer or Abelard. The flood leads to the idea of judgment/salvation. Look at that, I’ve put a slash between those two nouns and I did that for a reason. Any child can think about the Noahic flood. People got saved, but what else happened? People got drowned. The two occurred together. You don’t have in the Scripture salvation without judgment. Why is that? Why is it that every time you get something saved you also gets judgment?
Go back to the evil diagram again. How do you terminate this good and evil mixture? How do you get saved out of that? You only get saved out of that by partitioning the good away from the evil. The act of partitioning saves and it judges. So it’s not any incidental that when we study things like the flood that ended the antediluvian generation, it didn’t permanently separate good and evil but it separated that generation, it was an adumbration of things to come. That flood gave us the doctrine of judgment/salvation. Let’s think about the cross of Christ. If Jesus delivers and saves by that work on the cross, if we’re thinking in terms of the Old Testament we’d better look around for what’s being judged. Something is being judged here in order for saving to take place; those two works always go together.
Then we said the first covenant that’s explicit in Scripture gave us again a renewal of the doctrine of God, man, and nature. Then we went on and we came to the call of Abraham, and we talked about how he was elect out of all of the nations of the earth, Genesis 12. This is the topic today, the call of Abraham, what did we say? Why was Abraham called? What was happening to the human race? They were being corrupted, so God had to create a unique counterculture that would act like a theological greenhouse in which He could bring the seedlings of divine revelation and He would have actions that Israel would be involved in down through history, including bringing about the Bible, this is the product of Abraham, and the Messiah who was the seed of Abraham.
So the call of Abraham was a tremendous moment in history when God reached down and He elected one man. He didn’t ask for a Gallup poll on how many people would agree to this guy. He didn’t consult with anybody; He didn’t ask the angels for a vote. He said that’s my will, you may not like it but you’re a creature and I’m the Creator so tough on you, I call Abraham. So God calls Abraham and from that we get the doctrine of election, the doctrine of justification, the doctrine of faith, all associated with this tremendous moment that happened in 2000 BC when God called this counterculture into existence.
It’s always been hated. This is why even the unbelieving Jew … it’s always frustrating. I have to laugh on the radio and TV you hear about the Europeans don’t like Israel. Well they never liked Israel; they never liked the Jews when they were there, that’s why Zionism got started, because the Jews were kept out of all the businesses by the Catholic Church, therefore the only business they could go into was the one business the church forbad and what was the business that the church kept forbidding in the Middle Ages? Usury. So, where did all the Jews wind up going? Banking, and then they get chewed out for being bankers and money brokers. Well where else were they supposed to make their money? They couldn’t make their money in anything else because they were discriminated against. So, we have the rise of Abraham, and this calls into existence the hatred of the Jew. Ultimately the hatred of the Jew is really a hatred for God’s election. People don’t understand all the details but that’s ultimately what the problem is.
Then we come to the Exodus and that pertains to understanding the cross of Christ because the Exodus, besides the flood, is the next time we have judgment/salvation. But the Exodus goes one step beyond the flood because the Exodus lets us peer into something more profound about this judging work of God. When God chose to save Israel from Egypt, who got judged? The Egyptians. So again you didn’t have salvation without a simultaneous judgment. Thinking back to how the judgment took place, what was the final judgment that is commemorated to this day in every orthodox Jewish home? Passover. What’s Passover all about? Taking a lamb, killing it, and putting blood on the door. They may not have understood all the deep reasoning behind that, but surely if you were there you’d see a bloody mess. A lamb was slaughtered, slaughtered, an animal killed in front of your face and that blood, you had to take hyssop, dip into this bloody mess and go onto your nice front door and go like this on the front door. Now you’ve got dripping blood all over the front door and if you didn’t do it you got judged. God didn’t ask for approval of the art society about whether this looked nice or not. That’s the way He did it.
That shows you that when we start analyzing the work of Christ we come down solidly on the side of Anselm over against Abelard because what was Anselm’s point when he wrote the book Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man). That Jesus Christ’s work is a substitution to satisfy God for my sins. It may be inspirational, the obedience that Christ manifested going to the cross and going through that, that’s an inspiration, but that’s not the work of the Cross itself. The work of the Cross itself in that awful darkness on Golgotha has to do with some strange judging that was going on in order that there might be some saving going on. Jesus Christ’s work on the Cross is judgmental, it is bloody, it is awful, and it’s that aspect of the Cross that we want to think about.
When we went into that, and I’m going to skip the rest of the history till we come down to the Lord Jesus, we went through His death and we talked about the substitutionary blood atonement, because here again, same doctrine. We’ve seen it in the flood, we’ve seen it in the Exodus and now we see it on the Cross. And we said that each one of these aspects to the Lord Jesus Christ, His birth, His life, His death, and His resurrection are all rejected because of an underlying commitment to an unbelief, unbiblical truth, or falsehood I should say. What is the falsehood? What is the key issue behind this? What is the big idea that people have screwed up that will prevent them, every time, from appreciating and understanding the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross? The one idea, what’s the one central basic idea that once it’s out of line, like your car, when it’s out of alignment you’ve got a big problem because you can’t keep it on the road. This is the idea, the basic idea is, what is justice? The idea of justice underlies your ability to understand the Cross of Christ. If you cannot think through properly and you have a distorted notion of justice you will never understand the cross of Christ. Justice, biblically, has a certain content to it, and you can’t just sit there and say well I think justice is. This is not a class about opinions.
The only way to get the firm biblical concept of justice is to read the Bible and ask yourself as you go through the criminal law codes in the Old Testament, as you think those things through, ask yourself whether the justice being shown is a human social thing or whether it’s more profoundly rooted in who God is. You go to the Old Testament criminal law codes and you find essentially that justice is always restitutionary, i.e., justice must be satisfied—evil must be corrected. There must be a payment.
For example, let’s take the criminal code that has to do with theft. In the Old Testament when somebody stole something, they didn’t just throw them in jail. They laugh at our criminal justice system. We’re 34 centuries ahead and they say I think you’re 34 centuries behind because we solved our criminal problem of theft. Well how’d you solve that? Very simple, we had rules that said if someone stole something from someone, they had to restore it, and not only did they have to restore it they had to restore it even more to account for the loss of the item. So there was three-fold restitution, two-fold restitution, four-fold restitution. It’s all there in the code, all people had to do is read the Old Testament, of course nobody reads the Old Testament.
The point is that in the book of Deuteronomy, the book of Leviticus, all those laws are there. That’s what those laws are for, so you can read them and understand what their idea of justice was. You say what if the guy didn’t make payments? Then it would be a capital offense. Why’s that? Because he defied the court; defying the court is a capital offense so he had a little motivation to get out there and pay it back. What do you suppose that would do to society economically if thieves were required to pay back what they stole, instead of getting a motel trip for $30,000 or $40,000 a year for the next five years, so now we’ve lost $35,000 times 5, that’s how much their incarceration costs, the court costs, and they guy that lost the property gets insurance payments and the insurance company has to have some money to pay the guy so they take it out of our premiums so our premiums go up. Oh, it’s a great system we’ve got going.
But back in the Old Testament they had a clear view of justice, and their idea of justice was that it was restitutionary, that something had to happen and that the Law manifested God’s character and ultimately they all knew that whereas they could make restitution horizontally to man for things like thievery, they could not make restitution to God. The lesson was the animal sacrifices. They had to see that sin causes death, and somebody has to pay. The idea of transferring my sin onto a lamb or an animal is the idea that I can’t pay that, I’m helpless and God has to supply this thing. And when he does it, it’s a bloody mess and that’s what the cross is, it’s a bloody mess.
Two Scriptures that we want to look at because they are the kernel ideas. We could go through all the Scriptures, two dozen of them or so, but I want to take two Scriptures. One is John 12:32 because this is the one that Abelardians will quote to you that the Cross is only, is only a nice example, a moral example. I’m showing you this verse because I want you to understand that Anselm and all the honest Bible-believing scholars that follow him that hold to the substitutionary blood atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ are not denying that the Cross draws people to God. Of course we believe that, that’s what the gospel is; the gospel draws men to God. We admit that verse 32 type truth is there; what we’re saying is that Abelard is wrong to confine the effect of the Cross only to its attractive power to men.
It would be like this: let’s go back thirty-four centuries and we’re in Egypt at the time of the Passover and you are an orthodox Jew. You are putting blood on your front door and you’re doing it because you know that Moses has said that if you don’t do that you’re going to lose you firstborn, that’s what’s going to happen to you. This place is coming down and I’ve got to be saved and the only way I’m safe is put blood on my door. I love my son and I don’t want any deaths to happen in my family so I’m going to put blood on my door. But your neighbor comes over and he sees you putting blood on the door and he says, gee, that looks nice, I think I’ll do that - that inspires me, I like the design. What’s wrong with that? He missed the whole point, that’s what’s wrong with it. So people who say that oh, gee, I’m so impressed; Jesus was so committed to being a good guy even when everything went bad He just stuck to His guns. That misses the whole point. That interprets like it’s just a human martyr. The Cross isn’t just a human martyr story, things are happening on the Cross juridically. That’s one verse.
The other verse is Romans 3:26. It is true that the Cross answers an ethical dilemma, but it answers it because it really solves the problem, not because it’s a sweet idea. “For the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Verse 26 is a very, very important verse because it tells you that the cross reconciles a theological paradox, a paradox that Old Testament saints could not reconcile. They had to live century after century after century with a mystery of how could Yahweh be this holy God that Isaiah saw, that Moses saw on Mount Sinai, this burning holy deity, and how can He have fellowship with me a sinner? How does He do that? Yeah, I go through the animal sacrifices but I know that really isn’t taking away my sin so how does God have fellowship with me, I don’t understand that. And they didn’t understand that and Romans 2:36 tells you how it finally happened.
This is a warning to us; we have paradoxes today, I don’t understand how Jesus could do this and that. Someday we’ll find out, just like Old Testament saints when Romans 3:26 finally dawned on Paul’s mind through the Holy Spirit, that resolved a centuries-old theological problem. How can God be just and at the same time justify sinners? This is why verse 26 is so important. Let me pick on Islam for a little bit, they’re always picking on us. In Islam you have apparently a holy God claim made for Allah. Yet on the other hand if you ask a Muslim, is there a chance of going to heaven, they say if your good works outweigh your bad works, it’s one of those scale things. Just look at what’s been said to you. If your good works outweigh your bad works, your bad works still exist, the record of your bad works still exist. You’ve made some good works, true, but if Allah, i.e., if God, comes to you and says I’m going to accept you with your bad works because of your good works, He is now compromising His holiness and His justice. That’s the dilemma ethically and morally of every non-blood atonement religion. That’s why outside of the cross of Christ there isn’t resolution to the moral problem of how you can have a holy righteous God and yet have a God who forgives men who are sinners.
Also note in verse 26, verse 26 wouldn’t be a problem if we earned our salvation, because if we were really earning our salvation then God, the fact that He justifies us isn’t a problem. So verse 26 insists on two truths; it insists that God is just, He never changes, He is the same yesterday, today and forever, His justice never ever ever ever ever goes away. Yet at the same time God turns around and justifies wicked people like us, sinners like all of us are and He justifies, He completely justifies, not partially, completely. How can that forgiveness happen? Paul says in this passage, the only way that happens—that satisfies—every little jot and tittle is for there to be a blood atonement. Today again and again you hear oh, your problem is lack of self-esteem. Well it’s been our problem ever since the fall; of course we don’t have any self-esteem because we’re all a bunch of damned sinners. The point is that we as sinners who are damned by God are also justified by God. Doesn’t that do something for self-esteem? Self-esteem comes out as a result. It’s a subject result of objective truth. People have bad self-esteem because they’re aware of their sin. If we were aware of our atonement in Christ, no matter what kind of a stinker we are, no matter what other people think about you, if you have trusted in Jesus Christ for your salvation you are fully acceptable to God, right now, without 1.24 good works.
The problem is we don’t think about it, we don’t meditate upon it enough and our souls are weak. We’re like spiritual weaklings because we don’t feed on this kind of truth. If we would feed on it and think about it … a friend of mine is a real fan of Puritan literature and he’s recommended a book by a guy by the name of Christopher Love who was a Puritan. It is one of the most exquisite books for a Christian saint because it gives you how the Puritan teachers used to build powerful souls in their people. Those Puritan people, they were laughed at because today on the college campus you always have to tear the great people down, you always hear criticism about the Puritans. They have to pull these people down because they’re intimidated by the presence of the Puritans in our history. The Puritans were a very, very powerful people spiritually. They had their weaknesses but they had their strengths too.
So these are the verses in the Bible that talk about this death of Christ, and that’s what was going on in the Middle Ages. Tonight we’re going to go on from dealing with the work of Christ to how we get the benefits of that. We talked about the purpose and results of the cross. In so doing, let me also point out on page 94, don’t forget that italicized sentence, “This Abelardian Moral Influence Theory has recurred again and again since the Middle Ages,” it is the basis of Unitarianism, liberalism, and even in some evangelical revivalism.” Whenever Christ is preached as an inspiring example, a demonstration of the love of God, which by itself isn’t false, but if that preaching doesn’t go on to describe…. [blank spot]
On page 95, how do we receive the benefits of the cross? Now we come into the late Middle Ages and we call this the reception of salvation by faith. I’m a little different here in the way I’m handling church history in that I’m tying the Reformation into the Middle Ages. Usually that’s not done, I know that, but for the sake of simplicity I’m trying to divide it up into three parts of church history: the foundational period, the Middle Ages up to the Protestant Reformation and including the Protestant Reformation and then finally the more recent church history, the last 200–300 years.
We’re going to finish up the Middle Ages by looking at the next problem that arose. Notice the logical progression. First the authority of the Bible, then who God is, then the work of God on our behalf, and now the next question is how do we receive the work of God on our behalf? With this we come face to face with the difference between Rome and Protestantism because here’s where the church split, on how we receive the completed work of Jesus Christ. Roman Catholic theology does not differ from Protestantism in its conception of the Cross of Christ. Roman Catholicism and Protestants both agree as to the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ, that He is both God and man. Within the Catholic Church in America today, sadly, you have a lot of liberal Catholics that are Catholic in name only, they don’t even know what their own Catholicism teaches. I’m not talking about liberal-American-out-of-it-Catholics. I’m talking about your traditional devoted personal Roman Catholic person, the godly type of Roman Catholic. They would not disagree with us as to the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ; they would not disagree with us on the work on the cross.
Where they would come to disagree with us is how that salvation is received; that’s where the parting comes. So we want to look at that. On page 95, “Early church fathers elaborated on their understanding of sin and grace only as they felt the heat of heresies.” In other words, you can go back to the church fathers and you don’t get much out of them on this issue because it wasn’t being debated. You can underline that sentence because that’s true of every major doctrine. The church just doesn’t do it until it gets beaten to do it. It’s like we’re a bunch of teenage delinquents here and we have to be whipped before we get straightened out. That’s what’s happened to the church. None of these doctrines ever got straightened out nicely; they all got straightened out in a big fight, controversy, heretics, some people getting excommunicated and all the rest of it. All that had to happen every single time one of these doctrinal advances was made.
“Early church fathers elaborated on their understanding of sin and grace only as they felt the heat of heresies. In the Eastern churches Gnosticism denied, among other things, the responsibility of man. The Eastern Fathers,” i.e., the fathers of Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, the Orthodox group, “therefore came down hard on the liberty of volition.” The reason they did is because they were fighting in the East the Gnostics who kept denying that man had free will. So that’s why traditionally early on there was an emphasis on volition in the Eastern part of the church, that isn’t true, by the way, in the Western part of the church. Why? Because there was a different doctrinal fight going on, there was a different emphasis to fight against it. “In doing so, however, they avoided delving into the implications of Adam’s fall. Western Fathers went further in thinking about the implications of the fall. They saw the fall as corrupting man’s volition but not destroying it. By corrupting it,” now watch this, they are not arguing that volition is destroyed in the fall, what they’re arguing is that volition has been damaged and perverted so that it operates, people make choices, the problem is it always operates in the wrong direction. That’s what the Western fathers believed. “They saw the fall as corrupting man’s volition but not destroying it. By corrupting it, they meant that volition after the fall was limited to only evil choices.”
Left by ourselves, apart from God’s grace, we choose evil every time. The reason we would do that isn’t because we’re trying to be bad people; it’s because we’re trying to avoid God. A sense of guilt compels us to hide, just like Adam and Eve hid. So left by ourselves without that wonderful gracious call, why are you there, you know, talk to Me, I’m talking to you, if God didn’t do that to us we would hide in the bushes. We would recapitulate the story of Adam and Eve in our personal lives. So that’s what they mean, it’s not that we try to be bad; that’s not the picture of a corrupt will. The picture of a corrupt will is that I’m trying to avoid getting with God because I know I’m a sinner.
Now we’re going to enter, just like we had two men that both began with “A,” Anselm and Abelard, now we’re going to go back, before that time actually, because the debate really started prior to the Middle Ages and then it got amplified in the Middle Ages. So it looks like I’m back stepping here in church history for a moment, and I am I guess. I want to trace where this whole thing got started, it kind of fizzled through the Middle Ages and then it blew up at the end of the Middle Ages. But I want to tell you where the landmine was planted in the road before it blew up.
“The most famous debate in regard to man’s will and reception of salvation centered around two Christian leaders in the fourth century. One was a British monk who had come to Rome, Pelagius (AD 354–418).” Notice his birthday, AD 354. “The other was the North African bishop Augustine (AD 354–430).” Notice his birthday, AD 354. So both these guys are born in the same year.
Dr. Hannah, who is the church historian at Dallas Seminary, describes the controversy. So if you’ll follow with me.
“Pelagius … opposed the doctrine of Adamic unity and guilt by birth inheritance. The state of birth, as it relates to Adam, is merely that of a tendency to follow bad example, which, for some reason, we voluntarily emulate. There is no unity in Adam’s fall, each person being born into the same state as Adam before the fall and voluntarily falling from grace….” That’s Pelagianism, that’s the idea that when you have a child and that little thing is a nice cuddly kid, before he gets to be a brat, and you love him and everything is cool, and then they appear to start being bad, it doesn’t take them long, you don’t have to teach them to be bad. Isn’t that interesting, go into a parental interview and ask parents if they ever had to teach their kid how to be bad.
Now if you notice what Dr. Hannah says, there’s a little statement there I want you to underline it. Notice where he says: “a tendency to follow bad examples, which, for some reason, we voluntarily emulate.” Underline “for some reason.” We’re going to trace that through next time in more detail. The problem is that Pelagianism doesn’t explain this universality of sin. What Pelagianism does it says that that little baby that is born is born just like Adam and Eve were created. So your child recapitulates the story of Genesis 3 in that the child is born to you in a Genesis 2 mode and somehow it gets stuck and falls. But the fall is recapitulated, so to speak, in the life of your baby, and our life when we were babies. That’s Pelagius’ teaching. This leads to that if that’s so and we “voluntarily fall from grace …. then grace is an assisting gift from God if one chooses to avail oneself of it …. A corollary of Pelagius’ denial of human inability was the assertion that God’s election of humankind … was dependent upon His knowledge of the actions of the sinner if given a view of God’s grace.” That’s Pelagius’ view.
Turn to Romans 5; this chapter, Romans 5 is historically the passage that Augustine used to go after Pelagius. It’s nice to know when you study the Bible, it really does help you to know some of the historic debates used the passages that you might happen to be teaching or studying because then you say oh gee, yeah, that’s right, this passage, I really should understand this because this was the basis of a big debate that went on for two hundred years. Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—” now notice this, “death spread to all men, because all men sinned.” Notice the modern translations have a dash after that last word in verse 12, because it’s like a sentence that just stops. So if you stopped at the end of verse 12 you’d say wait a minute, hold it, Adam sinned, sin entered into the world and it spread to all men because I sinned? How did I sin in Adam?
Verse 13, “For until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed where there is no law,” in other words, the word “Law” in verse 13 is talking about the Torah, the Law of Israel that Jew would have thought about, and he says why is God holding me responsible? How can I sin if I don’t have the Torah, I’m sinning against the Torah. So until Moses gave the Law, how could you say all the people who died before Moses’ time, they didn’t know the Law, they didn’t have the Torah. To what were they held that made them die?
Verse 14, “Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam until Moses,” notice how he’s using physical death and you could say spiritual death is wrapped up in the same package, “death reigned from Adam until Moses,” an obvious fact of history, “even over those who have not sinned in the likeness of Adam’s offense, who is a type of Him who was to come.” So Paul’s arguing that because death occurred between Adam and Moses, somehow if death is a sentence of judgment, then we must have sinned. Methuselah must have sinned, Adam must have sinned, Noah must have sinned, Terah must have sinned, Abraham must have sinned, Isaac must have sinned, Jacob must have sinned; they all died didn’t they? So they were under a death sentence or something. What was it they were under a death sentence for? They didn’t eat of the tree of the Garden but nevertheless they’re held in death. That’s why it goes back to verse 12, that’s his theological statement, “death spread to all men” and it came through Adam.
In summary, here’s the deal. The debate that Pelagius had with Augustine surrounded this question: How are we related to Adam and the fall? Pelagius said we’re not, we’re not related to Adam and the fall; for some reason we recapitulate it, but we didn’t sin in Adam, we weren’t there, it had nothing to do with us. Augustine said, page 96, we’ll conclude with that quote.
“Augustine argued that by Adam’s first sin, in which the entire human race participated, sin came into the world, corrupting every person both physically and morally. Everyone, being of Adam, is born into the world with a nature that is so corrupted that they can do nothing but sin ….” Isn’t that a nice optimistic note? “For Augustine, the need for grace was central. Our disfigured condition is not so much that we are unable to choose Christ; rather, it is that humanity does not have a desire to know Christ. … Absolute inability on a sinner’s part necessitates a divine initiative and drawing mercies. Further, since humankind is unable to be aware of God’s grace, God could not have determined to save based upon a foreseen response of the sinner.”
Now you see that early on, in the beginning of the Middle Ages this debate was simmering, and it went on for centuries underneath the surface because this deal between Pelagius and Augustine really never got settled. It kind of got settled on the surface, but there was a lot underneath all that, and when Luther and Calvin came along, those guys, it was just like lava blew out of a volcano, because Luther and Calvin had their feet on top of Augustine and they said wait a minute, you guys haven’t answered Augustine, you’re not following his argument of Romans 5. So that’s what happened when we get into this other thing, and we’re going to deal with how then, if we have sinned in Adam and we have a corrupt nature in Adam, how then can we be saved. How are the benefits of Christ ever brought to us when we’re not even looking for them? That’s the issue of the Reformation.
Question asked: Clough replies: The issue of the infant, of course the biblical passage that most of us go to is David’s son, where David says when he loses his baby son, who is in that state, David says I’ll go to be with him. [questioner says so what does that have to do with the sin] Yeah, what happens to the sin of the infant? We really don’t know, the honest answer is that the benefits of Christ are applied in some way but how we don’t know. The basis of that, the questions that has been raised about how then does the finished work of Christ get applied to the infant who doesn’t believe, who can’t believe and say presumably arguing from, say a Roman Catholic perspective, because we must understand here … let me diverge a moment because this is also true.
In Augustine’s day as well as the centuries prior to Augustine, the church made no distinguishment between the act of believing the gospel and being baptized. What they would do is they would, I think it’s the Didache, has instructions on people who are about to become Christians, and it says that they’ll fast and they’ll pray and they’ll meditate until they are assured of the truth of the gospel and then let them be baptized. Then they speak as though the baptismal regeneration has occurred at that point where they actually are being baptized. This has caused a lot of confusion down through the centuries. If that were the case, you can see why the church started to drift toward an infant baptism type thing and why today in Roman Catholicism, as you see in the notes, the claim is made that infant baptism removes original sin. It forgives past sin but not future sin. In other words, it’s like I said, this wonderful finished complete work of Christ is sort of dribbled out over a period of time in pieces and chunks, it’s not delivered in a package, it’s dribbled down through the sacraments. In that case, if you held the Roman Catholic position, the issue of what happens to infants would solely have to do with whether they were baptized or not. This is why there’s, in dedicated devout Roman Catholic households there’s such an emphasis on getting the infant baptized lest something happens. So that’s where that’s coming from.
But obviously somehow the benefits of Christ are applied; we have no idea how.
Question asked or statement made: Clough replies: I think that we would be surprised at how early some children believe. [same person says something] But that’s because they’re infants. [discussion on children] The problem you have with children is they’re tremendously susceptible to peer pressure and parental pressure, and it’s a real fine line as a parent, you want your children to believe, you want to explain the gospel, answer their questions and groom them, as it were, but yet on the other hand you certainly don’t want to have them profess to believe before they’re ready in their heart to believe, out of deference to you. That’s where it’s delicate parenting that has to handle that problem. But the point we have to say is that justification, and you’ll see it in the notes, the word, let’s get the words straight, the word to justify does not mean the same in Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, and that has led to more misunderstanding between Protestants and Catholics. Both are insisting, the Roman Catholic is affirming that you are justified by faith; they believe that, that you are justified by faith. But what they mean by the word “justify” isn’t what we mean by the word “justify.” So let’s define those terms.
The Roman Catholic idea of justification is a process, and they use the word, their theologians use the word as we would use the word sanctification. So they’re using it almost as a synonym for sanctification; they would say we are being justified by faith. But when the Protestant Reformation occurred, Luther and Calvin, when they meant justification they meant it as a package deal, that a person was justified and saved from past sins, present sins and future sins, period! What happened then was, you can well imagine, that the early Protestants were attacked viciously by the Roman Catholics for saying that, because they said once you guarantee that future sins are forgiven what’s going to happen? People are going to fall back, and you are giving them a license to licentiousness. That has always been the argument, and that, unfortunately, is circulating in today’s evangelical circles, that you dare not teach real biblical justification, because if you do, people are going to be stimulated to lead cruddy lives. That would be true if…if justification were understood to mean a cheap salvation. But that gets back to the fact, and this is where we have the cart before the horse, there are evangelicals today who are worried about this problem, that if you really teach justification by faith as Luther and Calvin taught it, as Romans 5:1 teaches it, as Paul taught about it, you’re going to have people that just take advantage of it, so you’d better not teach it that way, gotta keep people in fear, so you create all these little theological things to keep people in fear that they’re not saved yet.
The problem with that is it’s not a problem with understanding the work of Christ, that problem comes about by misunderstanding who God is. Think of the sequence we’ve looked at, what is it? The authority of the Bible, the nature of God, the nature of Christ, the work of Christ, and then how we benefit from it. If we teach justification as a full package that should not logically lead to licentiousness, if we’ve understood who God is, who Christ is, and what the work of Christ on the cross was. So you don’t solve the problem by putting theological doubts in people’s minds, gee, you’re really not saved, if they are saved. You don’t do that, you go back to who God is, who Christ is, and emphasize the doctrine that preceded that.
So what happened historically was the Catholic Church came back against Protestants and you can read it, it’s called the Council of Trent. Pick up a book on church history and you can read it for yourself. The Council of Trent is the council when the Roman Catholic Church took on its present form. It’s ironic, but what we call the Roman Catholic Church really didn’t exist prior to Trent, it did in parts and pieces but the real … what we identify as Roman Catholic Theology today is largely the result of two Councils: one the Council of Trent right after the Protestant Reformation, and the other, Vatican I in the 19th century, because in Vatican I in the 19th century was when the Pope was declared infallible. It wasn’t until Vatican I that Mary was considered to be of Immaculate Conception and the assumption; that all started in the 19th century. Catholics living in the 1700s didn’t believe in Papal infallibility, they didn’t even talk about it. That’s a late arrival. Of course they’ll say it was part of the oral tradition … well, find it in the writings.
The point is that you had the Council of Trent come back against the Protestants and that’s where they nailed Luther and Calvin. They said you guys have let lose licentious living, you have taught a justification by faith that is a license to sin. Ironically that’s exactly the objection that Paul faced because in Romans and Galatians what does he say? In Romans he says if I am allowing evil to come by preaching good, then its good, he’s using that argument, he’s being sarcastic because he’s facing the same thing Luther faced, he’s facing the same thing that Calvin faced. It’s always the objection that you can’t teach justification by faith or you’re going to let some horrible thing out of the bag or something, so you have to keep everybody fearful. The problem with that approach is that you take a person who is struggling with an ongoing sin problem, it works exactly backwards. If they can’t understand that they are totally and completely forgiven by the grace of God they’re never going to trust God to deal with the problem, because they won’t have the trust that He’s going to help them. If I’m sitting here and I am not convinced that God accepts me, how am I supposed to deal with my sin problem? Excuse me, but it’s backwards.
So its precisely teaching a full orbed justification that solves the sin problem, because it leads to a motivation. The motivation is whew, God accepts me, now I can come to Him, I’m not ashamed to come to Him with my problem. But if I’m ashamed to come to Him I’m not going to come to Him, I’m going to hide in the bushes with Adam and Eve. So I’ve got to have the assurance that I’m acceptable with God before I can work on some of these sin issues. And it’s going to take time to work some of those out, and sometimes I’m going to lose, sometimes I’m going to fall backwards, but that doesn’t make me not a Christian. Oh, you don’t have saving faith because I’ve got a problem. It’s true, you can have false profession, but false profession doesn’t come about because of a bad doctrine of justification; false profession comes about, you’ve got peer pressure, that’s one source of it, incomplete knowledge of who and what God is, a total misunderstanding of what the cross is all about. If you see what passes for evangelical work, I’m not talking about good Bible teachers and stuff, but there’s a lot of stuff on the radio and TV that apparently is evangelical. Just listen to the appeals - just listen to the content of the appeals: you tell me that the objective work of Christ on the cross is being taught there; come to Christ and He’ll heal your problems. I don’t see that in the Bible. Yeah, He does that, but that’s not what the cross is all about.
You’ve had a little bit of exposure to church history with the Abelard–Anselm issue, so now you can mentally say okay, what we’re hearing here is just that the cross is a nice thing, you know, it’s motivational, that sort of thing. But that’s not going to cut it because you see the problem is that we’re sinners. The problem is that we have a problem with God; it’s not a problem with other people, yeah, we have problems with other people but that’s a result. My problem is I’ve got a problem with God and I’ve got to solve the problem, or He’s got to solve it because I can’t, and the only way He solves it is through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. That’s the handle you have. We can talk about the forces of evil, the demonic, we can talk about Satan, we can talk about sin habits, we can talk about this and we can talk about that, but all that is nothing compared to the finished work of Jesus Christ, what He did on the cross, that’s the center of the gospel. Nothing else is, all the rest of it is peripheral. It was that that Luther and Calvin, thankfully and by God’s grace, resurrected once again into the church, and they did it in a very clear, very dogmatic and very controversial way because remember, what have we learned from church history? That we learn nothing from church history unless we get pressured into it, unless the church gets beaten, persecuted or attacked by a heretic, then it’s now you’ve got my attention God, and now I’m going to learn. But it’s only as we get hurt and shoved around do we ever learn. It’s comforting because that’s the way I am and I like to the fact that everybody else in church history is the same way. Be honest, that’s how we all learn, the college of hard knocks, the most efficient curriculum ever devised.
That whole issue of the Protestant Reformation is contingent on these other things, and that’s why I’ve been so careful to lead you up the path, I’ve shown you the debate over the authority of Scripture, the debate over the nature of God, the debate over the finished work of Christ, and now how do we receive it. And once we get done with that we’re going to go on to the modern period when we deal with what is the church, is the church an institution? What’s the church’s mission? To redo what Israel did? And then finally eschatology, and today we’re living, probably in the tail end of church history because the last great doctrinal area is being debated right now and that is the return of Christ. How fitting that that doctrine be debated prior to His imminent return, that the church before Christ comes back the church will have a clear understanding, we’re going to have a big bloody fight, a knock down drag out over eschatology. It’s coming, it’s here and we have people now in evangelical circles who say Christ came in AD 70. These aren’t liberals now; these are our own so-called Reformed people teaching this kind of stuff. So, here we are; we can’t get it straight on who Jesus is and His coming. I thought that was pretty clear in Scripture myself, but we’ve got guys with PhDs in evangelical circles, denying that the Book of Revelation is future, it’s all passed, it happened in AD 70. Hello!
But that’s the debate; that’s because I personally believe that the world is setting up for the return of Christ. So that’s going to be the end of church history and we will have gone through from the Bible, the authority, all the way down to the hardest doctrine of all, which is eschatology.
We’ll have to break it off.